Francesca Zunino Harper is a linguist, translator, and publishing professional. She worked in the British and international academia researching on comparative literatures, translation, and women’s and environmental humanities for several years. She now works in the Humanities and Social Sciences area of publishing. You can follow her @ZuninoFrancesca.
How can traditional as well as digital publishing business models stay relevant and profitable in this forever evolving, algorithm-driven, unpredictable consumer world? What can publishers do to keep on top of the game as advertising models and social media strategies keep the business in a constant state of flux? How can they sustain a unique identity among this outpouring of tech platforms?
Two talks and a panel analysed the current and impending state of digital affairs at the first State of Media and Publishing in Digital meetup at WeWork Shoreditch on Tuesday 11th September. The thought-provoking event was jointly organised by 93Digital, the London based WordPress web design and development agency, and Bibblio, the content recommendation and personalisation service for publishers. Both the individual speakers – Dens Milne, Senior Product Manager at Physics World, part of IOP Publishing, and travel and lifestyle brand Suitcase Magazine’s Commercial Director Linda Blank – and the panel (Dens Milne, Carl Hazeley, VP of content at new finance content platform Finimize, Alice Heeder, founder of book content hub and box Reading in Heels, and tech guru Mads Holmen, founder of Bibblio) left the audience with a lot of practical advice to put into action.
Dens Milne addressed the positive transformation the Physics World website underwent since it partnered with 93Digital in 2017 and started using WordPress for both its online magazine and mobile-friendly app. In parallel, this new set-up offered new advertising options, integration with multiple content streams and most importantly offered new ways of classifying, segmenting and grouping the magazine’s unchanged high-quality content. All this greatly increased traffic and site usage, which in turn converts into fully-profiled registered users and grows both native advertising and (relevant!) sponsored content revenue. A successful answer to the questions I posed at the beginning, especially if you are the world leading hub for a slightly niche subject and your primary focus is always your loyal users. And the number one rule, content which must be relevant to your audience is still king.
Linda Blank discussed the case of Suitcase Magazine and how it manages to develop and keep growing its audience in an already busy market. Again, the emphasis was as much on technology as on the need for quality, inspirational content which must be relevant to the users. Linda also stressed the importance of native advertising and content marketing as Suitcase expanded from its first incarnation as a print and digital magazine to its new, parallel and expanded media services space. Although print sales for magazines are declining, independent magazine subscriptions grew by 78% in revenue in 2016. Print is becoming a complementary product to online interaction points with the audience. Therefore, the parallel existence of both subscriptions and ad revenues means the blend of publishing and e-commerce recommendations has to be personalised, engaging and organic for the audience, as editorial is always fundamental to build and keep credibility. Offline interaction is a powerful tool: creative live events, partnerships and collaborations with an open mind are essential to also help build engagement and foster a sense of community, and to reward loyal readers. Balancing the needs of editors and advertisers is key to retain quality and therefore customers.
After the welcome pizza and prosecco break, metrics, data and click measurements vs. the audience’s emotional engagement and longevity loyalty were yet again at the centre of the panel’s debate and key takeaways:
- Subscription targets, building your own identity and brand and creating offline events are bigger, healthier goals than traffic and rates measures. Choose only one metric that tells you the truth about your website, and then focus on acquiring traffic by building registered users also through big drivers like organic searches that direct to your site to get visitors’ returns and longer stays on your webpages.
- You can get the users to pay for premium content eventually, and also use social media to prioritise the creation of a group and an experience to get people engaged and show the content your audience wants: the key is building digital commercial models that rely more on real, stable, responsible, meaningful connections and user-generated content than on ads.
- Show your audience what they want to see and read, not what you think they want to buy, don’t sell yourself and your customers up as a commodity, make sense and be transparent – mistrust and adblocks are the standard in our attention economy.
After all, as Mads Holmen reflected, in our message-bombarded, communication-overflooded days, the CEO of Netflix alarmingly likes to point out that “the greatest enemy isn’t the BBC, it’s sleep”.